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Successful Freelance Wedding Photographer ~ Alex Stead
10th March 2020 • iCreateDaily Podcast • iCreateDaily Podcast
00:00:00 00:40:53

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Learning and Creativity as a Freelance Photographer

Wedding photography is a big deal, and when it comes to photography jobs, wedding photography can pay mid to upper range of available photography jobs. As with anything, the actual amount depends on the kind of wedding… and on the quality of the photographer.

In our show research we discovered that mid range wedding photography costs between $2,000 – $4,000 per wedding and can break down to less than $40/hour income, all time and logistics considered. Another statistic reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is that the average wage for photographers was around $28,860. But weddings can be a very decent to lucrative photography niche, which an off season period for pursuing other work or interests.

In this podcast interview you’ll meet the lovely and dynamic Alex Stead, who has her own very successful wedding photography business.

Alex is a creative and inspiringly productive wedding photographer, and here are some of the things we discussed in this interview:

  • What it takes to become a successful freelance photographer
  • Who first inspired Alex to give the freelance life a go
  • Alex’s deliberation over school versus self-employed
  • The passion for learning that keep Alex excited
  • Entrepreneurial, self-education versus traditional education
  • Why Alex’s chose wedding photography
  • The kinds of commercial photography Alex does
  • Getting freelance jobs from publications like Reader’s Digest
  • Being a freelance photographer in a beautiful tourist destination
  • Alex’s favorite non-photographer class that helped her photography the most
  • Alex’s productive daily habits that help her most
  • How setting goals makes all the difference in Alex’s success and productivity.
  • Advice for making a go at professional photography.
  • The most productive sources of traffic for her business
  • What venues for business leads did NOT work for Alex

And so much more! The above list is just from the 16 minutes of the podcast!

Links From Interview:


Thanks for tuning in! Please leave your review on iTunes and also let us know what creators or topics you’d like us to interview in future podcasts and we’ll add it to the list.

Thanks too to Alex Stead for sharing her story!

Quotes we enjoyed from this interview:

“Inspiration is for amateurs, professionals go to work.” ~Chuck Close, painter of big portraits, born-7/5/1940

“There are some things you just have to do every day.” ~Alex Stead, pro wedding photographer

Full Interview Transcription [raw; unedited]:

LeAura Alderson: Welcome to the iCreateDaily Podcast. A movement for creators serious about their art. I’m LeAura.

Devani Alderson: And I’m Devani, and today we’re joined by Alex Stead who’s a professional wedding photographer in Canada. Alex photographs the world with a sense of joy, her images full of bright colors and lights of emotions. She lights up inside when she’s able to capture photos that she knows will become treasured memories. What an awesome way to view your work.

LeAura Alderson: Awesome way to view your work. And also fantastic photos on her site. Welcome, Alex!

Alex Stead: Thank you so much, guys! I’m happy to be here.

LeAura Alderson: Great. Tell us how you got started as a professional photographer.

Alex Stead: I actually got started … I was about 14 or 15, so about 10 years ago now. I became really, really obsessed with photography in a way that did not seem normal at the time for a young teenager. I just super nerded out. I wanted to learn everything I could about editing and taking pictures. I just got really, really obsessed with photography.

About three years later, I decided that I could probably make money off of it. I was a really big fan of Tim Ferris at the time. I was reading The 4-Hour Work Week. And I said, “Hey. I could probably make money with this.” It’s a cool hobby. I know I’ve probably got enough skills to do it as a career. Let’s see where it goes. My initial plan was to just work five to ten hours a week at it as a side job while I was going to university. Eventually, I ended up leaving university and now it’s a full-time job for two people.

LeAura Alderson: Wow, fantastic. When you say leaving University, did you end early? Or did you go ahead and graduate?

Alex Stead: I took a leave of absence for a couple of years. I’m actually heading back in January and scaling back a little bit just so I can finish my degree. At the time, I really wanted to grow my business and just see where I could take it. So, I decided to just press pause on the university scene for a while.

LeAura Alderson: We’re all for that. What do you want your degree to be in?

Alex Stead: Business and English.

LeAura Alderson: Business and English, okay.

Devani Alderson: Awesome.

LeAura Alderson: Definitely the business will help you in your photography business. But as we get into it, we’ll learn more because so often people who get into profession discover that you really have to evaluate whether you need to spend the extra money and take the extra time to go back to university, versus continuing and pursuing your career, right? Had you considered?

Alex Stead: Absolutely. That’s something that I’ve struggled with a lot over the years, deciding whether I should go back, whether I shouldn’t. My mind seems to change on it a lot. At this time in my life, it’s not really very useful. But I keep going back to the idea that … I love the idea of being just a highly educated woman, really. It’s more of a matter of pride than a matter of usefulness, I think. I know, right now, at this time in my life, I don’t have a family, I don’t have children. If I want to pursue my education, now is the right time to do it. I’ve got this great window in my 20s to do that. It’s more taking care of future me than really needing it right now, I think. But I definitely still struggle with it. I’m interested to see in my 30s and 40s looking back, whether that was a good decision or not to finish it.

LeAura Alderson: It’s hard, in your 30s and 40s, while this may seem the opportune time, you can always go back. Our podcast isn’t on that subject, but it’s one of the things I’m passionate about because I see, and I hear from so many of the mentors that we follow, where they say if you are succeeding at earning a living in your business, unless you want to work for somebody else. If you definitely want to become an employee working for somebody else, then you go for the degree.

Alex Stead: Yeah.

LeAura Alderson: If you want to pursue your entrepreneurship and grow in that, then self-education, you can become a highly-educated woman through self-education, selectively.

Alex Stead: Absolutely. I 100 percent agree with that, too. The self-education I’ve done so far has been way more useful in a degree as ever.

LeAura Alderson: There you go.

Devani Alderson: There you go.

LeAura Alderson: Well, something to think about.

Devani Alderson: In your business, you’re a professional wedding photographer. Are you solely focused on weddings? Do you do any other type of photography, or did you decide this is my type of focus, and this is how I’m going to pursue my photography career? How did that come about? How did you niche down to that?

Alex Stead: So, when I first started out, I shot just about everything that came my way. I was doing families, I was doing newborns, I was doing maternity, I was doing commercial work. Really, anything I could get hired for with my skill, I was trying out everything. After a while, I realized that I really liked the wedding work the most. It’s really fun, the hours are good, honestly, you’re working weekends, but you’re not really working with other people on the weekdays. You get that time for yourself to work from home, which is really nice for a kind of introverted person. So I like having that time to myself every week.

I still do some commercial work as well, I just don’t talk about it a whole lot. I get hired mostly through word of mouth.

Devani Alderson: Cool.

Alex Stead: Yeah, I really like weddings, and I like the opportunities I’m able to get through it.

LeAura Alderson: When you say commercial work, would that be like a brand or product photography?

Alex Stead: Yeah, so there’s a lot to it. Commercial work is a fun kind of side project for me. I don’t do a ton of it. But, sometimes magazines will hire me to do a small piece. Have you ever heard of Maclean’s magazine?

LeAura Alderson: No.

Alex Stead: Okay. It’s a Canadian magazine. They hired me a few months ago to follow a reporter around for a day, and photograph people he was interviewing. That was a really interesting day, just a great day of exploring. So, that kind of stuff happens. Or, Reader’s Digest called me up a little while ago, and needed a portrait taken [inaudible [00:06:03], so I just took the portrait. So, stuff like that is nice as a filler. I would say I’m probably 75 percent weddings, and 25 percent just other stuff.

LeAura Alderson: Other things. So, speaking of Newfoundland, because that is the part of Canada you’re in, which is incredibly picturesque, so you have lots of opportunity to take landscape photos, photogenic, picturesque kind of scenes, and sell them as portraits, framed portraits, cards, whatever, gift shops, because tourism is a thing there. Is that something you’ve explored?

Alex Stead: Not particularly. I paint as well, so I’ve sold my paintings in stores and stuff, just to sample Newfoundland scenery, and stuff. Yeah, I have some landscape work that I have available, but I don’t necessarily pursue that a whole lot right now.

LeAura Alderson: Okay. It’s nice to, I mean, the education concept, it’s nice to have other options and horizons and possibilities. Especially if at some point you get tired of the weddings. I would think that a benefit of the weddings is you get to enjoy some good food as well.

Alex Stead: Yeah, definitely is. I keep a list of just other possible options, so if there comes a time that this isn’t what I want to do, I’ve got probably 30 or 40 options now, where if I wanted to put my time and effort into something else, I’ve got a long list of things that are options.

Devani Alderson: That’s awesome.

LeAura Alderson: Yeah, and that’s a good point, because sometimes too many options are to the detriment of artists and creators, because we are idea people, and have so many ideas and possibilities and opportunities, so there’s a lot to be said for really niching down, focusing, and becoming well-known for one category as you’re doing with the weddings. And you become automatically the go-to person. Your name becomes synonymous with wedding photography in your area, so that would definitely be to your advantage.

Alex Stead: Yeah, and I love the idea of thinking big, and like I say, I have a lot of ideas that I could pursue. But it takes time and effort, and would take away from your business. So, for now, I’ll cling to an idea, and I’ll take two or three months to flesh it out and make a plan for it, see if it works. Sometimes they take off and it becomes a successful side-project. It’s always a balancing act. It’s hard to have too many side projects, because then, no focus. [crosstalk [00:08:30] So, I try to limit myself to two to three things at a time that I’m focusing on. Always my business number one, the weddings, and I’ve always got something else happening in the background.

LeAura Alderson: Fantastic.

Devani Alderson: Yeah.

LeAura Alderson: That makes sense.

Devani Alderson: In the sense of iCreateDaily, what do you do every day? What is some of the structure you use in your business to keep the business running, and for your own creativity? You mentioned you have those various side projects that can keep it fun and interesting, but what do you do on a daily basis that helps you stay prolific in your own business?

LeAura Alderson: Or learning something new.

Alex Stead: That’s a great question. I’m all about the self-advancement, so whenever I can, I’m always trying to take in programs, or mentorships, classes, whether they’re directly related to photography, or business, or not. A couple of semesters ago, I did a dance class. And that was honestly one of the best creative endeavors I could have done. It made so many new opportunities in my brain. I was thinking of different ways that I could pose people and move people, just by myself. So it doesn’t necessarily need to be directly related to photography or business, but I try to do that. I’m always trying something new.

Every day, I write. I write something every day, whether it’s poetry, or just journals, or short stories. I’m working on films sometimes too.

LeAura Alderson: Wow.

Alex Stead: It’s never a planned set time every day, there’s at least a half hour period when I’m writing.

LeAura Alderson: Fantastic.

Alex Stead: Yeah, and every day I edit, which is more just out of necessity, you have to edit your photos. But I find it very relaxing and very invigorating. It’s one of my favorite processes. It’s very meditative, I find. And it’s just kind of a precise skill, I guess, where you’re just toggling buttons, making sure the colors look right, clarity’s right, there’s no stray hairs. But I find my editing time to be very relaxing and meditative, and it’s a nice, daily process that I look forward to, honestly.

LeAura Alderson: Yeah, that sounds fantastic. It’s wonderful how disciplined you are, so young, how focused on constantly creating. That’s very inspiring. Are there times that you don’t, I mean, I think where you are with it, is that you recognize to create daily does renew you, inspire you, and motivate and uplift you. But do you have down days where you don’t feel like doing anything?

Alex Stead: Oh, absolutely.

LeAura Alderson: And do you go with that, or do you push through anyway? What’s your approach to that, in general?

Alex Stead: I read a quote recently that said “inspiration is for amateurs. Professionals go to work.”

LeAura Alderson: Yeah, you heard that recently. That’s good.

Alex Stead: Yeah, and I kind of agree with that. So, my more creative projects, I usually do when I’m inspired, or when I’m in a mood for it. So when it comes to painting, I might go six or eight months without painting anything, but then I’ll go three weeks where I’ll paint 20 things in a row. I’ll just be on fire for it. But there are certain things you just have to do every day, and you just have to stay disciplined to it. So, it’s finding my stretch goals, right, knowing when to let go for your own mental health, if you need down time more than you need putting pressure on yourself time. It’s still a fine line that I still struggle with, is being ambitious, being a sloth. Needing alone time, needing down time to just really rest and read, hang out in the hammock. But it’s also getting to work, make sure I’m focused on my goals.

So, I set goals for myself, like monthly, three months, six months, a year, where do I want to be? How am I gonna get there? And I’m not super hard on myself when I don’t meet them perfectly. As long as I’m working the right direction.

Devani Alderson: That’s such a good point. Because I think a lot of creatives struggle with where they are now, versus where they want to be, and then create their own intense pressure around, I’m not there yet, and that’s terrible that I’m not there yet. Because we also have that perfectionist gene inside of us that’s like, it needs to be perfect, it needs to be there, I need to be a year ahead right now. And so, being able to set those incremental stages where you can say, okay, a month from now, I’m not gonna be 12 months ahead a month from now. And I might even need to take a step back. But, I’m in that general direction, and I know what’s happening, and so I can move forward.

LeAura Alderson: There are many artists in our audience. Some of them are where you are, and they’re earning a living with their art or their craft. And some of them are still working a job, wondering if it’s possible. You’re, I presume, able to make a full-time living as a professional photographer, right? So, what would you advise someone who hasn’t yet taken the leap from the job job into freelancing, working for themselves, earning enough, as a professional photographer, for instance, to make a go of it?

Alex Stead: I think it’s two-fold. I think you need to really critically analyze your own work, and think, can I actually make money off of this? Am I good enough? I think a lot of people start too early. I was one of the people who started probably too early. So, looking at your own work and critically analyzing it, knowing that you’re putting out work that is worth money, really.

The second thing is knowing business a little bit. You don’t need to have, I don’t think, a degree. But you need to know some basic marketing, some basic accounting. You need a little bit of every head. If you’re gonna start your own business and work for yourself and make real money, you need to know how to do the basics in just about every aspect of business for the first couple of years, usually.

So, you’ll get to a point where you can hire those things out, but in the beginning, it’s good to know where you are. Especially with marketing, I think. It’s one of the biggest skills you need with running a business that promotes your art.

LeAura Alderson: Yeah. The marketing aspect. So what is your number one marketing avenue that gives you the most business?

Alex Stead: I would say definitely my social media. We’re pretty big on Facebook on Instagram, constantly...